No, climate activists are not coming for NYC pizza
The New York Post's viral "exclusive" on emissions rules for pizza ovens is based on a lie.
Ever wanted to see how climate change disinformation spreads in real time?
Look no further than the New York Post’s latest viral story: An “exclusive” on New York City regulations to reduce pollution from coal- and wood-fired pizza ovens.
Published Sunday by reporters Carl Campanile and Kevin Sheehan, the Post’s story claims that New York’s Department of Environmental Protection “has drafted new rules that would order eateries using the decades-old baking method to slice carbon emissions by up to 75 percent.”
The proposed rules would “ruin” and “destroy” the quality of New York City pizza, the story claims, citing the concerns of an anonymous “pizza restaurateur” who implies pizzerias would no longer be able to use high-temperature ovens under the rules. “You take away the char, the thing that makes the pizza taste great, you kill it,” the anonymous restaurateur says.
The story also includes a comment from a random pizzeria customer, who says climate activist and former vice president Al Gore should “take one less private jet” rather than implement carbon rules for New York City pizzerias.
These quotes were all quickly picked up and republished by traditional and right-wing media, who blasted the “climate rule” that targets “carbon emissions.” Among the pick-ups: Fox News, The Daily Beast, The Daily Wire, The Daily Caller, The Daily Mail, The Blaze, National Review, and Washington Examiner. Elon Musk also complained on Twitter that the “utter BS” rules “won’t make a difference to climate change,” sparking even more breathless coverage.
The story was all perfect fodder for the political right, whose most effective tactic to delay climate policy thus far has been to turn climate change into a culture war, and to accuse climate activists of trying to “take away” the things they love.
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The pizza oven “climate rule” is not a climate rule
The New York Post’s headline and story text each claim that New York City’s new proposed rules will require pizzerias to reduce carbon emissions by 75 percent. In fact, each and every story that picked up the Post’s report said the pizzeria rule requires a 75 percent reduction in emissions of carbon, the main driver of climate change.
We thought this was strange—because if you look at the actual text of the proposed rule (not linked to in any of these stories, but it starts on Page 2967 of the New York City Record for Friday, June 23 if you’d like to read it) the words “carbon,” “carbon emissions,” and “climate change” never appear.
Instead, the proposed rule states that coal- and wood-fired cook stoves covered by the rule are only asked to reduce particulate matter emissions by 75 percent.
Particulate pollution and carbon pollution are not the same thing. Particulate pollution refers to the tiny pieces of solids and liquids that we can breathe into our lungs and harm our health: think smoke, smog, dirt, and soot. Carbon pollution refers to the greenhouse gas that warms the planet.
This is an air pollution rule. It’s not a climate rule.
We reached out to Campanile and Sheehan, as well as the Post’s media team, to see why they described it as a carbon rule. We received no response as of publication.
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In a sense, Musk and all the right-wing media outlets who claimed in outrage that this pizza rule would do nothing to solve climate change are correct. But that’s only because the rule is not trying to solve climate change. It’s trying to make sure New Yorkers who live and work near hugely-polluting pizza ovens aren’t getting blasted in the lungs with cancer-smoke all day.
Pizza ovens traditionally burn two types of fuel: coal or wood. Both coal and wood-fired ovens release the small particulates that have been linked to health problems like asthma, cancer, heart and lung problems, neurological problems, and death.
While a pizzeria oven may seem small next to a coal-fired power plant, they can have a significant impact on the health of employees, customers, and neighbors. A 2010 study in Atmospheric Environment measured the air quality inside Italian pizzerias with wood-burning ovens, and found that “particle concentrations in pizzerias can be very high.” Another study of wood-burning pizza ovens in Brazil found that hazardous pollutants were found in high concentrations, both outside and inside the pizzeria.
Indoor air quality is much less likely to be regulated than outdoor air quality, even though most people spend about 90 percent of their time indoors. And while most restaurants’ emissions aren’t studied or well-understood, this is why the NYC DEP says it’s regulating commercial ovens. “Wood and coal-fired stoves are among the largest contributors of harmful pollutants in neighborhoods with poor air quality,” a DEP spokesperson told HEATED.
So it’s simply not accurate to say climate activists are coming for your pizza. It’s more accurate to say that, by manufacturing outrage to turn people against the rule, conservatives are coming for your lungs.
You can have your slice and eat it, too
Contrary to what the Post and so many other news outlets implied to their readers yesterday, it’s possible to make a good pizza without giving your neighbors’ children asthma. In fact, many New York City pizzerias are already doing it.
The Post’s anonymous “pizza restaurateur” said the new rules would take away the crispy charred crust “that makes the pizza taste great.” But there is nothing in the rule that mandates pizzerias get rid of their high-temperature ovens.
The only thing the rule requires is for pizzeria owners to have an architect or engineer come check out the oven, and see if it’s feasible to install an emissions scrubber. If it’s not, they can apply for a waiver.
An even stronger piece of evidence against the anonymous “pizza restaurateur’s” claim is that this rule is already in place. It’s been nearly a decade since New York passed its 2015 law requiring emissions-scrubbing technology on commercial wood- and coal-fired ovens built after 2016.
That 2015 law is actually the reason for the city’s latest proposed pizza oven regulations—it’s not because of Green New Dealers, as the Post’s editorial board claims. The 2015 law mandated that old ovens built prior to 2016 would eventually have to be subject to emissions regulations. That “eventually” is present-day.
But the strongest piece of evidence that pizza is not threatened by climate activists or pollution regulations comes from the Post’s article itself—down in the 21st and 22nd paragraph.
“If someone is trying to say that putting [emissions scrubbing technology] in changes the flavor of the pizza they’re just trying to save themselves $20,000,” said Paul Giannone, the owner of Paulie Gee’s in Greenpoint, and the only on-record pizzeria owner the Post got for its story. “It hasn’t changed our product at all.”
None of the outlets that picked up the Post’s story included that quote. Imagine that.
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